George W. Bush


If you are someone who cares about such things, you probably already know that Donald Rumsfeld’s new memoir, “Known and Unknown,” has created some controversy thanks to the former defense secretary’s expectedly self-serving justification of the Iraq war. The Washington Post‘s Bob Woodward, who wrote several behind-the-scenes books about the Bush administration, took particular exception to Rumsfeld’s version of events and wrote about the subject here.

In addition to the financial cost and the loss of lives, our country’s reputation was tarnished on the world stage thanks to Rumsfeld and company’s unnecessary war. Consider that context as you read the following quote from NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel in a report on the protests in Libya.

“People here have been told by Gadhafi that the United States wants to invade and make Libya into another Iraq. They seem to believe it,” Engel said while in Tripoli, the capital of Libya.

I wish President Obama’s detractors would keep that in mind when they criticize him for allegedly “apologizing for America.” That’s not exactly what Obama has done; he essentially has said that the reckless line of thinking that led to the Iraq war was not the way America normally conducts itself on the world stage. Perhaps Obama’s critics will accept this fact someday, though I am not hopeful on that front; regardless, Rumsfeld and the rest of the Bush administration who led our country into the Iraq war need to accept that they were wrong to do so.

It’s time for a political pop quiz:

Question: What’s the best way to know your efforts are truly bipartisan?

Answer: Factions on both sides of the political aisle are mad at you, yet many Americans believe what you did was the right thing.

Case in point: The tax-cut compromise bill reached through negotiation between President Obama and Republican congressional leaders. Nobody is 100-percent pleased with the bill, and that’s because both political parties had to give up something to get something in return.

That’s how it worked in the good old days before hyper-partisan talking heads ruled the cable news networks 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Yep, it was good old-fashioned compromise that created this deal.

And with all due respect to incoming Speaker of the House John Boehner – who recently said on CBS’ “60 Minutes” that he rejects the word “compromise” as meaning the equivalent of showing weakness by not standing up for what one believes in – compromise is exactly what all our lawmakers should be focusing on doing these days.

When Obama easily won the 2008 presidential race, it wasn’t just because he was the anti-Bush and seemed to understand economics better than John McCain. People also bought into his campaign promise to change Washington, D.C., politics by bringing compromise back to the table.

Unfortunately, Obama’s victory on those grounds essentially turned the Republicans into what a Democratic operative keenly dubbed “The Party of No.” Whatever the Democrats wanted, the Republicans didn’t. And outgoing Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi seemed to be approaching her job the same way as the Republicans. If the GOP wanted something, the “Speaker of No” didn’t. That’s partly what made Pelosi an easy target for Republicans during this year’s midterm elections.

Then, on Nov. 2, the Democrats got jolted back to reality by the “shellacking” they suffered at the polls. That seemed to remind Obama that the majority of Americans – whom I believe sit firmly in the center of the political aisle, or at least have aisle seats – want compromise, even if that’s not what some of them want to call it. That much was evident when he took control of the tax-cut situation and came to a compromise with GOP congressional leaders regarding the Bush-era tax cuts, extension of unemployment benefits and Social Security payroll taxes.

Now that they have some congressional power again, the Republicans now seem willing to compromise, too – at least on some issues, like repealing the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on gays and lesbians, and finally moving forward on the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia.

Should both political parties come to consensus about every issue? Of course not – their key differences are what make them unique from each other and draw loyalties from the electorate. But they need t0 remember that every issue is not one of those exceptions. If they don’t, we’re headed for gridlock.

This column was originally published in the Thursday, Dec. 23, 2010, issue of Ottawa Delivered.

Remember when, for a time, the conventional wisdom was that if we were going to have an African-American president in our lifetime, it would be retired Gen. Colin Powell?

I was reminded of this last Sunday while watching “Meet the Press.” Powell was a guest on the NBC show, and I was captivated listening to his civil discourse with host David Gregory. A large part of Powell’s appeal is his firm but friendly presentation that commands respect, and it helps tremendously that he always sounds like he knows what he’s talking about because his opinions seem well thought out.

Sounds like the man who did become the first African-American president, doesn’t it? But I digress.

Powell provided thoughtful insight into some of today’s issues during his Sunday morning set. In my opinion, his best commentary was about the tea party movement and the (not necessarily related) divisive rhetoric in politics today.

“I think it is a fascinating change in our political life to see this kind of movement gain such momentum and strength,” Powell said of the tea party movement. “And this is good. People want to see this. But at the same time, this movement doesn’t become a real force until it starts to talk to the issues. I want to cut spending. I want to have lower taxes. But how do you do that? You can’t just have slogans. … You have to have an agenda.”

Powell cautioned that the tea party movement could follow in the short-lived footsteps of the Reform Party if it doesn’t come up with some real, doable solutions to the problems it seeks to fix.

“We all believe in the Constitution, we all want lower taxes, we all want less spending, lower deficit, everything else, more freedom,” Powell said. “But at the same time, how do you get all of that and at the same time make sure that we are investing in our children, investing in our infrastructure? How do we bring the deficit down by cutting spending, and where do we cut that spending? It’s not enough to just say, ‘Let’s do it.’”

Powell also was spot-on when discussing some of the more ridiculous character attacks being levied against President Obama. If you disagree with his policies, then feel free to criticize them based on their merits or lack thereof. But there is no constructive reason to just make up things in an attempt to discredit the president.

“Think carefully about some of the stuff that is coming across the blogs and the airwaves,” Powell said. “Let’s make a couple of points. One, the president was born in the United States of American. Let’s get rid of that one, let’s get rid of the birth thing. Let’s attack him on policy, not nonsense. Next, he is a Christian. He is not a Muslim. Twenty percent of the people say he is a Muslim, 80 percent of the people apparently do not believe he’s a Muslim.”

As usual, what Powell says makes sense. It’s just too bad there is a sizable contingent of people who don’t want to hear what he has to say because of his involvement with the Bush administration (Democrats) or his later disavowing of it (Republicans).

And sadly, some people just don’t want to listen to anyone who speaks common sense.

This column was also published in the Sept. 23 issue of Ottawa Delivered.

It’s hard to believe the end of the decade is already upon us.

Have 10 years really passed since people worried about Y2K computer problems and how the country would heal in the aftermath of closest presidential election in U.S. history? Has it really been a decade since the last New Year’s Eve celebration free of the terrorism worries that come with living in the post-9/11 world?

I remember New Year’s Eve 1999 well. It was the first time I rang in the new year in La Salle County, and I spent much of it watching the late Peter Jennings anchor ABC’s coverage of “Millennium Eve.” Jennings was on air for 25 consecutive hours, and I recall watching much of it. By the time the night was over, Jennings likely was passed out from exhaustion, and I found myself quietly singing Bruce Springsteen’s “My Hometown” in an attempt to coax the party host’s toddler daughter back to sleep.

Yeah, it was an interesting night, and all the more memorable for it.

So much has happened since then. The Bush-Cheney presidency came and went, with its highest and lowest points arguably both involving warfare. Bush did an excellent job of rallying the country after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but stained his legacy by following that up with the increasingly unpopular Iraq war. (The Afghanistan war seemed like the right post-9/11 move, but unfortunately, Bush switched the military’s main focus to Iraq before the job was finished there.)

Closer to home, Illinois went through two governors who are unforgettable for the wrong reasons. George Ryan was sentenced in 2006 to six years in prison for racketeering, bribery, extortion, money laundering and tax fraud crimes committed while he was secretary of state. More recently, Rod Blagojevich was arrested and indicted on abuse-of-power charges, impeached and removed from office, and continues to be a national embarrassment to the Land of Lincoln.

At least Illinois made up for its political woes by delivering the country its first African-American president. Barack Obama galvanized voters in 2008 and faced numerous challenges throughout the first year of his presidency.

Tiger Woods began the decade by becoming the youngest player to win one of golf’s four major championships. He ended the decade by becoming the butt of many jokes after his wife caught him playing on other courses.

There were several notable natural disasters mid-decade: the tsunami that killed more than 225,000 people; Hurricane Katrina, which decimated parts of Louisiana and Mississippi; and a 2005 earthquake that killed 80,000 people in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India.

Of course, these things are just the tip of the iceberg that was the first decade of the third millennium. It will be interesting to look back to this moment of time 10 years from now. If there is anything this past decade has proven, it is this: You can expect the unexpected to happen.

As a Chicago Cubs fan, I couldn’t help but notice a particular triple play of events during Tuesday night’s All-Star Game:

1. The Midsummer Classic was held at the new Busch Stadium, home of the rival St. Louis Cardinals. Because of this fact, several Cardinals Hall-of-Famers were trotted out during the pregame festivities and current Cardinals were cheered loudly while the lone Cubs representative, pitcher Ted Lilly, was roundly booed during team introductions. (And Lilly didn’t end up pitching in the game, either.)

2. The American League continued its All-Star Game dominance, winning 4-3 to post a 12-0-1 record in the last 13 All-Star Games. If this trend continues, the National League may never have homefield advantage in the World Series again.

3. President Barack Obama wore a Chicago White Sox jacket while delivering the ceremonial first pitch to Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols, who has a real shot at winning baseball’s elusive Triple Crown this season.

President Barack Obama throws out the ceremonial first pitch before Tuesday's All-Star Game in St. Louis. (Jeff Roberson / Associated Press)

I like Obama, but was it really necessary for him to showcase Chicago’s South Side team in front of a national audience?

“Everyone knows I’m a White Sox fan and my wife thinks I look cute in this jacket,” Obama told FOX broadcasters Joe Buck and Tim McCarver. “Between those two things, why not?”

At least Obama didn’t rip the Cubs during the half-inning he spent in the broadcast booth. “I’m not a Cubs hater. … I just don’t root for them,” he said.

As a White Sox fan, Obama obviously rooted for the American League to win. Ironically, the National League scored all three of its runs while the president was in the broadcast booth — and White Sox hurler Mark Buehrle warmed up in the bullpen then, too.

Also notable was Hawaii native Shane Victorino’s single and run scored while Obama was in the broadcast booth during the bottom of the second inning. Obama also is a Hawaii native, which earned him a gift of  macadamia nuts from Victorino before the game.

Although he correctly predicted the Pittsburgh Steelers winning the Super Bowl in February and the University of North Carolina winning the NCAA men’s basketball title in April, Obama declined to predict who will win the World Series this year.

“It’s a little early for that,” Obama said. “You know, I tend to try to get a little more information.”

As for the presidential first pitch, Obama lobbed the ball just hard enough to barely reach home plate. In that respect, former President George W. Bush did a better job than Obama. Bush, a former owner of the Texas Rangers, always threw a solid first pitch to the plate.

Obama threw out a first pitch one other time, before Game 2 of the 2005 American League Championship Series between the White Sox and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, when he was Illinois’ junior U.S. senator. The White Sox lost Game 1 of that series.

“After I threw out my first pitch, they won eight straight” to win the World Series, Obama noted.

Does that mean whatever American League team plays in the World Series this year will win it? We have to wait until fall to find out. In the meantime, I’m fairly certain no team will ask Obama’s replacement in the U.S. Senate, Roland Burris, to throw out a ceremonial first pitch — unless it’s the Washington Nationals, who seem to have a knack for doing dumb things like misspelling their name as “Natinals” on their jersey fronts.

Washington's Adam Dunn (pictured) and Ryan Zimmerman took the field April 27 against the Marlins wearing "Natinals

Washington’s Adam Dunn (pictured) and Ryan Zimmerman took the field April 27 against the Marlins wearing “Natinals” jerseys — the “o” was missing from the logo. And Washington calls itself a major-league organization …

Say what you will about George W. Bush and his presidential policies, but he earned back an ounce of my respect after saying he won’t put politics above country by criticizing President Obama.

“I’m not going to spend my time criticizing him. There are plenty of critics in the arena. He deserves my silence,” said Bush, speaking Tuesday in Calgary, Canada.

“I love my country a lot more than I love politics,” Bush said. “I think it is essential that he be helped in office.”

Spoken respectfully like a former president who understands the enormous responsibilities of his successor. Too bad Bush’s vice president, Dick Cheney, hasn’t adopted the same approach to life after the White House.

Cheney took to the airwaves Sunday to criticize Obama and blame the recession on Democrats and the rest of the world. To his credit, CNN’s John King asked Cheney why people should listen to him:

KING: There are people I assume watching this interview right now, and people in this town who would say, why should we listen to you? And they would say that because of the context of the Bush administration numbers.

They would say, you know, what did you do when you were in charge? And they have some numbers to back up their case. And I want to show some to our viewers.

 When you came to office, the unemployment rate in the country was 4.2 percent, when you left it was 7.6 percent. The number of Americans in poverty when you arrived, just under 33 million, over 37 million when you left. The number without health insurance, a little over 41 million when you came, over 45 million approaching 46 million when you left.

And you came with a budget surplus of $128 billion and in the final year, the budget deficit was a record $1.3 trillion. So what would you say to someone out there watching this who is saying, why should they listen to you?

CHENEY: Well, there are all kinds of arguments to be made on that point. But there’s something that is more important than the specific numbers you’re talking about, and that had to be priority for our administration.

Eight months after we arrived, we had 9/11. We had 3,000 Americans killed one morning by al Qaeda terrorists here in the United States. We immediately had to go into the wartime mode. We ended up with two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some of that is still very active. We had major problems with respect to things like Katrina, for example. All of these things required us to spend money that we had not originally planned to spend, or weren’t originally part of the budget.

Stuff happens. And the administration has to be able to respond to that, and we did.

I think it’s also — you talked the unemployment…

KING: But you’re a conservative administration, spending more than $1 trillion.

(CROSSTALK)

CHENEY: We always said — I always said that wartime scenario is cause for an exception in terms of spending. It was appropriate in World War II, certainly, and I think it’s appropriate now.

Not surprisingly, Cheney uses the 9/11 terrorist attacks as an excuse for everything that went wrong during the Bush administration. And I’m sure the Obama administration will use the recession as its scapegoat. But the difference between the two cases is this: The recession is a legitimate, inherited excuse for government spending, whereas 9/11 didn’t force our country into the Iraq war — unless you believe the false spin that Saddam Hussein was somehow linked to the terrorist attacks. And 9/11 certainly didn’t cause the recession — wartime spending is supposed to help employment figures, not do the opposite. And wartime spending is a poor excuse for the Bush’s administration’s lackluster response to Hurricane Katrina.

Cheney, you’re doing a heck of a job. Now shut up and go away already, Dr. Strangelove.

In an interview that aired Sunday on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said the recession “probably” will end this year if the government is successful in its efforts to bolster the banking system. This includes getting banks to lend more freely (and responsibly) again and stabilizing the financial markets, he said.

Bernanke also believes the U.S. economy is no longer in danger of sinking into a depression. (To read the interview, click here.)

This is great news if Bernanke is right. But I don’t think we’re out of the economically depressed woods yet. I’m sure it won’t be easy to convince banks to lend more freely, considering how tone deaf the heads of bailed-out banks and insurance companies have been to the situation thus far. The latest example of this is American International Group (AIG) paying $165 million in bonuses to executives after losing $61.7 billion in the fourth quarter of last year — the largest corporate loss in history. Yet AIG still gives all that bonus money — money it has only because the insurance giant took more than $170 billion in bailout money from the federal government — to people who helped put our country in this economic mess. AIG says it was contractually obligated to pay out those bonuses, but I’m sure the company would have found a way out of parting with that money if it hadn’t gotten billions of dollars in bailout funds.

Even if the banks and financial markets start acting the way Bernanke hopes, unemployment figures still will rise, probably into double digits. I’m hopeful that economic recovery will begin by next year as Bernanke suggests, but if it doesn’t, things are going to get ugly for a lot more Americans.

While this is all going on, former Vice President Dick Cheney is busy saying the Bush administration is not to blame for the economic crisis. He told CNN’s John King that America got swept up in a global financial crisis. That may be partly true, but the state of America’s economy plays a large part in determining the state of the world economy. Cheney ought to go back to an undisclosed location and stop reminding us about the Bush administration.

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